Primavera Sound on launching new Madrid festival and fixing 2022’s issues

An organiser tells NME what makes the festival line-up so unique, the ongoing gender diversity battle, and how "we want to bring our passion for music to your city because we think you feel the same"

An organiser from Primavera Sound festival has spoken to NME about the ambitious launch of their new sister event in Madrid, as well as what goes into putting the line-up together and what caused the issues with last year’s Barcelona return.

Primavera had previously announced a stacked line-up with the likes of Depeche Mode, Blur, Kendrick Lamar, Rosalía to headline, along with the likes of Halsey, FKA twigs, Skrillex, St. Vincent, The Moldy Peaches, Calvin Harris, Le Tigre., Turnstile, Arlo Parks, Måneskin, PinkPantheress, Christine And The Queens, Fred again.., and many more – before revealing New Order as the final headliner last week.

Asked what considerations are made with regards to what it takes for an act to be considered fitting for the festival’s character and atmosphere, organiser Joan Pons told NME: “We know what feels like ‘Primavera’ and what does not. It’s difficult to put your finger on it and describe. It is easier to find what is not Primavera than what is.”

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Pons explained how he considered “four different folders to fill” to make up the ultimate day’s line-up at the festival.

“You have to see an act that you are longing to see – that could be a great headliner, a reunion, or whatever,” he began. “Then a second act would be your favourite new band or discovery, then another band who are just a lot of fun, and finally some band that are somewhat of a challenge for you – maybe they’re a bit too arty for your tastes normally, or you don’t normally listen to Reggaeton or whatever. We try to fulfil these four ideas at every day of the festival.

“If we feel that there’s a lack of one of them on any day, we know we need to fix it. We know that what makes Primavera special is that everyone will see those four acts each day.”

The National's Matt Berninger, performing live at Primavera Sound, Barcelona, June 3, 2022. Credit: Graham MacIndoe
The National’s Matt Berninger, performing live at Primavera Sound, Barcelona, June 3, 2022. Credit: Graham MacIndoe

Explaining why Primavera Sound draws such a large international audience, Pons told NME that it was “down to the quality of the line-up” and the locations chosen.

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“We know that as curators, we are very harsh,” he said. “We have this credibility and people rely on us, but for Barcelona, we’re also the first big summer festival in Europe. We’re also within the limits of the city, which makes it very comfortable for people to go back to a hotel or AirBnB. We have the weather, we have the sea, we have Barcelona.”

Having recently launched Primavera Sound festival in Portugal, Los Angeles, Brazil, Argentina and Chile, the franchise will be launching a sister event Madrid the week after the Barcelona edition for the first time this summer. Sharing in a press statement that the two cities will “mirror each other on two consecutive weekends” – something Pons described as “their biggest challenge yet”.

“It is difficult to start a new festival because there are a lot of things that you don’t know,” he admitted. “We don’t know how the audience in Madrid is going to behave, how many people will come, where they will come from and how it’s all going to work – but it’s very exciting to start a new festival. It reminds us why we do this – we want to bring our passion for music to your city because we think you feel the same as us.”

On what to expect from the new festival site in Madrid, Pons said: “We decided to have this new venue because it’s like a dream site for a festival and is built for it. We’d feel kind of silly if we didn’t take advantage of this. It’s probably going to be better than the Barcelona one because it’s built for having festivals. The Barcelona site is lovely, iconic and part of our legacy, but every year we have to adapt it for us.”

Last year’s Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona came with headlines around problems relating to bar issues, large queues, overcrowding and access to water on the opening day. By the second day, the festival had responded, citing issues with COVID “casualties” and other logistic matters.

“The thing is that we apologised for the very first day,” said Pons, looking back on the festival. “The behaviour of people once in they’re in the festival can be predictable but is often surprising. Last year it was the first big festival after three years of the pandemic and suddenly, all of the people who had tickets appeared there for the very first time just as we were opening the doors.

“We were like, ‘Wow, that is too many people for this time of the day’. We had some problems with the bars, but we fixed them the very same day. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to apologise – of course, we needed to apologise the second day. If you think about the whole event, it was a 12-day festival with only one day of problems. We are proud of ourselves for being so reactive and listening to people so quickly.”

Primavera
Primavera Sound 2019. Credit: Jordi Vidal/Redferns

Primavera Sound also made headlines when it began to pledge a “new normal” of a 50/50 gender split line-up in 2019. While festivals such as Norway’s ØYA Festival have achieved this every year since 2017, and around 45 international festivals and conferences pledged to have gender-split bills by 2022, Pons admitted that “progress has been kind of slow” in diversity spreading across the wider festival circuit.

“People thought it might have been a campaign for a very specific year, but it wasn’t – it was a commitment for every year,” he said. “We think it can be inspiring for other festivals and help to transform society. Maybe we were dreaming, but this is something we believe in and that our audience really appreciate. We realised that the first year after we did it, the comments of the people in the festival were, ‘OK, I not only feel safe, but I can also express myself and I feel represented’. We are going to stick to that.”

He added: “It is something that all other festivals will eventually have to do, and we are proud for doing it for real. It is something that defines our character.”

And who does Pons have on his bucket list of acts to headline Primavera Sound in the future?

“We all have dream bookings, and eventually, they will come,” he replied. “There are some artists we always ask if they’re touring and will come, so we have to be patient. There are too many names that come to my mind as a music fan as I know that some of them are impossible and others are not.”

Primavera Sound 2023 takes place at The Parc del Fòrum in Barcelona from June 1-3 and the Ciudad del Rock in Arganda del Rey in Madrid from June 8-10. Visit here for tickets and more information.

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